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Getting Creative: Hunter Kelly’s Journey Through The NCAA Transfer Portal Amid The Coronavirus Pandemic

Former Penn State football offensive lineman Hunter Kelly entered the NCAA transfer portal in January following four years with the Nittany Lions. He spent nearly four months in the portal before announcing he’d transfer to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for his final season.

Although nearly all potential transfers have a difficult time planning their future, Kelly’s experience in the transfer portal was unique due to the coronavirus pandemic. When evaluating his options, he needed to rely on Zoom recruiting, online communications, and outside-the-box workouts.

Kelly enjoyed his time as a Nittany Lion and cited the 2016 White Out as one of his fondest memories. Due to the lack of opportunity to display his talents, though, the offensive lineman decided to play elsewhere for his final season of eligibility.

“I obviously had [Michal] Menet in front of me,” Kelly said. “I knew my chances of starting and playing were small. I came to terms with the fact that I put in my four years at Penn State. I got a degree, which is what I ultimately went there to do. I still have aspirations to play in the NFL and I knew I had the talent to go play somewhere else like Charlotte or a few other schools I was recruited by, like Richmond or Eastern Kentucky.”

The Langhorne, Pennsylvania native didn’t begin visitations until the end of February, so he toured just one school in-person, Richmond. All other visits came through Zoom and other online communications.

With all of this in mind, coaching staffs needed to be creative when presenting their pitch to Kelly. Virtual tours and PowerPoint slides are what caught the offensive lineman’s eyes when he did online visits with schools.

“Eastern Kentucky was pretty cool,” Kelly said. “We had a Zoom meeting — it was me, the offensive line coach, and the offensive coordinator. They did a screen share and they had a PowerPoint slide ready to show all the facets of their program, to go through their campus, their facilities. It was cool the way they had it laid out and structured. It was tailored towards me and their goals for me.”

While meeting with teams and weighing his options on where to play next, Kelly also needed to get creative with his workouts to stay in shape. In the absence of spring ball, players were left to train on their own.

“I’ve just been getting creative. I obviously have a pretty good base level understanding of how to form workouts based on what I’ve done at Penn State and in high school,” Kelly said. “I have a couple of free weights, a bench, a barbell, and dumbbells. I’ve been getting creative with those kind of workouts and making sure I hit every muscle group.”

In addition to the equipment he has at home, Kelly has taken advantage of an empty high school field nearby. He goes there to run, complete offensive line drills, and agility exercises. While it’s not an ideal situation, he said it challenges him to “do what he needs to do.”

Kelly has also gone to some extremes to ensure he gets a quality workout, which includes wrapping bedsheets around his door to do some stretching.

“I’ve been getting creative in terms of how I use household items to stretch,” Kelly explained. “I’ve tied a bed sheet together and put it in the door so that I can hook it onto my legs and stretch a little bit.”

The majority of his training has come on his own, but Kelly has received some guidance from some close contacts of his, such as offensive line guru Duke Manyweather.

“I’m in close contact with Duke Manyweather. He’s a close friend of mine,” Kelly said. “He’s an offensive line trainer. He does the OL Masterminds in Texas every summer with Lane Johnson and other guys. I was there last summer. I’ve been keeping in contact with him to see what he’s doing for the guys that he’s training.”

Along with his workout efforts, Kelly explained that much of his decision to head to Charlotte was based on a higher chance for exposure from professional teams.

“UNC Charlotte, I would just be flat out and saying that they’re obviously an FBS program,” Kelly explained. “The couple other schools that recruited me were FCS. I think with what I’m trying to do, looking at a bigger school and being able to play bigger teams is what I wanted to aim to do so I could put that good year on film against good talent for NFL scouts to see.”

In addition to the FBS component, Kelly believes that Charlotte is an up-and-coming program that is headed in the right direction. Following their first-ever winning season and bowl appearance in 2019, the 49ers are clearly trending upward.

“We play Tennessee our first game. Being able to go out there and prove myself to people who may have overlooked me or may not have given me a shot is really what I want to do,” Kelly added.

Something that remains in the back of Kelly’s head is the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming college football season. While it wasn’t a factor when he was visiting with teams, he now seriously considers it as the future remains uncertain.

“It didn’t come up when we were talking to schools, but it has always been in the back of my head, and it still is,” Kelly said. “I’m getting ready to come to a certain school and I have no idea if we are going to be able to play this season. It’s tough to really even mentally prepare. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

While it’s clearly an unprecedented time, Kelly appreciates the effort schools took to recruit him virtually. Plenty of programs have still managed to showcase their best attributes despite the serious challenges presented.

“It was pretty cool to see how schools are recruiting during this time and how they have to adapt,” Kelly said. “It’s nothing like they’ve ever done before. Giving tours online is weird, but it’s cool to see how schools are adapting. [Schools] are really just trying to make the best out of it, as am I. It’s not easy, but it is the best we can do right now.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is suddenly Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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